South Africa rugby legend Joel Stransky says he sees no way that the British and Irish Lions tour can go ahead as planned.
Worse still, the man whose extra-time drop goal won the Springboks their first World Cup, fears the 2021 Lions could be lost forever.
“The realist in me says that the Lions tour is not going to happen,” said Stransky. “In all likelihood.. there’s a possibility it could never happen.”
South Africa is a country in level three lockdown, with a nightly curfew between 9pm and 6am until at least January 15. Failure to wear a face mask in public is punishable by a fine or imprisonment.
A South African variant of Covid-19 is causing such concern that direct flights have been banned to the UK.
Deaths have topped 30,000, with 434 on Monday, and the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to a country unlikely to start rolling out a vaccination programme before the tour’s July start date.
Stransky said: “We are all desperate for the tour to go ahead. It’s a massive thing for our country as a revenue generator.
“The peripheral revenue is just huge and from a rugby perspective SA Rugby needs it enormously. You kind of think if it doesn’t happen it’s financially catastrophic for us.
“But we have a very different society to a First World society. We have a broad spectrum of people.
“There are those who are very cognisant of Covid, fearful of it and follow government guidelines to the letter. There are also an enormous number who have to go to work or they don’t eat.
“The reality is in certain sectors Covid is spreading badly, the situation is horrendous. Right now the Lions tour as proposed seems highly unlikely. Deep down, sadly, we know that.”
This is not to say a reimagined Lions tour is out of the question.
South African rugby is in desperate need of a cash injection given the Springboks have not played due to the pandemic since beating England in the 2019 World Cup final.
Upwards of 30,000 travelling fans packing stadiums – not to mention restaurants, bars, vineyards and safaris – is so vital to the economy that a 12-month postponement is clearly preferable to an eight-match tour played behind closed doors.
But sources insist no option is off the table as talks continue to find a way to save the venture.
Even if broadcasting rights-holders Sky Sports were to go along with a postponement, it is hard to envisage national coaches agreeing to give up next summer’s tour slot a year out from the World Cup.
Eddie Jones' England have a three-Test trip to Australia in the diary, Ireland a series in New Zealand and Wales a date with South Africa.
“There will be contracts in place for outbound and incoming tours and every other tournament," Stransky said. "I’m not sure the Lions is a tour you can just move round."
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